With a Premier League title potentially six days away and a Champions League final on 27 May, you might have thought that Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo would understand the importance of putting Manchester United before their own priorities. But sadly this self-obsessed, preening pair decided that yesterday was the perfect opportunity to pursue their own tedious personal agendas.
Having scored the goals that settled this game, they embarked upon separate acts of rebellion that even Harry Enfield's noxious Kevin the Teenager would have considered a bit over the top. For Tevez it involved a one-man protest in front of the United's directors' box after his goal, a cack-handed attempt intended to garner support for the permanent transfer that he believes is his due. Strangely, he did not do the same when he missed a header from one yard out in the 90th minute.
From Ronaldo came one of the worst acts of petulance from a man who has not just written the book on silly strops but completed the foreword and extensive footnotes. Waiting by the touchline for his substitution just before the hour, he stared at the sky like a grumpy adolescent and then lashed out at the tracksuit top offered to him by some unfortunate, cowering United underling. It was pathetic and it overshadowed his goal, the first of the afternoon.
One of the many problems with Ronaldo is that he just does not know when to stop, so after this initial minor fit he treated the Sky Sports cameras to lots of moody head-shaking while he sat on the bench. At the final whistle he left the pitch like a man who had been dealt a grievance, not bothering to acknowledge the home support who clapped him off. You do have to wonder just how much more of this garbage Sir Alex Ferguson is prepared to endure.
It was the kind of personal indulgence that would have been unknown among the Ryan Giggs-Gary Neville generation but by way of consolation, Ferguson has plenty of players for whom that spirit still burns bright. There was another exemplary performance in midfield from Darren Fletcher, who finds out today whether his Champions League final ban will be overturned and whose selfless hard work for his side made him and Nemanja Vidic the outstanding performers.
While Ronaldo was deciding which angle would work best for him to display his hurt and injustice to the cameras, waiting to come on in the double substitution was Wayne Rooney. Unlike Ronaldo, Rooney only played 32 minutes of the match but as usual he was full of running and self-sacrifice. Against Arsenal on Wednesday he was deployed on the left wing, against Manchester City yesterday it was the right – neither of them are Rooney's favourites but he threw himself into both.
Ferguson offered an unconvincing defence of Ronaldo's behaviour afterwards – what else would you expect? – but even his stomach must have been turned. Tevez's protest was timed to coincide with the latest of his woe-is-me interviews yesterday calling for United to pay the extortionate fees to make his deal permanent to the company who own his registration. No disgruntled United player in recent history has yapped away quite like Tevez and it is starting to get boring.
Into the middle of this domestic row stumbled City, who having fallen behind to Ronaldo's free-kick in the 18th minute never really got their act together. United now need to beat Wigan on Wednesday and avoid defeat against Arsenal on Saturday to win their 11th Premier League title and it is hard to imagine them blowing it now. They are 50-1 on to win the title which could well be in the bag by the time Liverpool travel to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
As United cruise towards their third successive title, so the team for Rome to face Barcelona must take shape in Ferguson's mind. Yesterday Rafael da Silva at right-back looked fractionally too eager to make his mark against his compatriot Robinho to look entirely reliable. John O'Shea, a second-half substitute, will surely be the first candidate to play there against Thierry Henry, if he is fit.
For all Tevez's protests in front of the directors' box – curiously this involved theatrically cocking an ear in David Gill's direction as if the United chief executive was supposed to shout the terms of his new deal at him – he did not make himself indispensable. His goal in the 45th minute was expertly made by Dimitar Berbatov who stuck out a toe to kill Fletcher's long ball before squaring it for Tevez to thump in off the post.
There were the familiar chants of "Fergie, Fergie, sign him up" from the United fans but if Tevez feels that loyalty is unconditional he may wish to reconsider. Yesterday, his goal aside, Tevez was overshadowed by Berbatov who, despite one preposterously languid jog forward when Ronaldo was leading a counter-attack, looked sharp. He played deep enough that he often had occasion to retrieve the ball like a midfielder.
United went a goal up when Stephen Ireland made a mess of tackling Berbatov as he ran towards the City goal. Yes, he got something of the ball in his challenge but not before he became tangled up in the United striker's legs. In the wall, City's Nigel de Jong jumped out the way and Ronaldo's free-kick found the bottom corner of Shay Given's goal.
Too many of City's big names failed to deliver, including Robinho who was substituted towards the end with an injury. Elano did not really deliver on his high opinion of himself apart from one angled ball in the 56th minute which eluded Vidic and found Robinho on the dangerous side of Rafael. He shot over. United barely tested Given in the second half – they did not have to.
Given that these local confrontations are so often full of colour, this one passed off without much more than the usual bitterness. In fact it was just the kind of routine win that Ferguson would welcome at this stage of a title run-in in every respect apart from the conduct of his two goalscorers. Tevez, you suspect, may just have booked his passage out of Old Trafford. As for Ronaldo, after yesterday, you can only suspect that his ticket has been stamped for a while.
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar; R Da Silva, Vidic, Evans (O'Shea, 71), Evra; Park (Rooney, 58), Fletcher, Giggs, Ronaldo (Scholes, 58); Berbatov; Tevez. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Neville, Carrick, Nani.
Manchester City (4-5-1): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge; Elano, Kompany, De Jong (Petrov, 73), Ireland, Robinho (Evans, 89); Caicedo (Bojinov, 63). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Zabaleta, Fernandes, Berti.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside)
Booked: Manchester United Fletcher; Manchester City Ireland.
Man of the match: Fletcher.